Recently, the Lancet Commission, a group of 24 international experts on dementia, estimated that one-third of dementia most likely can be prevented or slowed down by providing early intervention for hearing loss, hypertension, smoking, diabetes, obesity, and depression.
Hearing Loss Interferes with Cognitive Abilities
Though each of these risk factors is treatable, let’s focus on hearing loss. Diagnosing and treating hearing loss continues to be an issue researchers cite as key to preventing dementia. Untreated hearing loss can interfere with cognitive abilities because so much effort is put toward processing and understanding speech.
As people age, basic cognitive skills, including working memory and processing can decline, which may negatively affect the ability to process speech in a noisy environment, or the ability to process information quickly. Research also has demonstrated that hearing aid use can reduce the social, functional and emotional consequences of hearing loss.
Hearing Aid Wearers Performed Better on Cognitive Tests
In addition, a study from researchers at Columbia University Medical Center found that older adults who used a hearing aid performed significantly better on cognitive tests than those who did not use a hearing aid, despite having poorer hearing. The study was published online in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. The authors concluded the study suggests that using a hearing aid may offer a simple, yet important way to prevent or slow the development of dementia and improve cognitive function in older adults.
Study Showed Improvement in Cognitive Function with Hearing Aid Use
Hearing loss also affects 10 million Americans ages 45 to 64, but only about 20 percent of people in this age category who actually need hearing aids wear them. This study from the speech-language pathology program at the University of Texas, El Paso looked at a group of individuals in their 50s and 60s with hearing loss in both ears who had previously never used hearing aids.
They used cognitive tests to measure their working memory, selective attention and processing speed abilities prior to and after using the hearing aids. After two weeks of hearing aid use, tests revealed an increase in percent scores for recalling words in working memory and selective attention tests, and the processing speed at which participants selected the correct response was faster. By the end of the study, participants had exhibited significant improvement in their overall cognitive function.
There Is a Connection between Hearing Loss and Health
These studies underscore the connection between hearing loss and other significant health issues including dementia, brain shrinkage, depression, falling, hospitalization, mortality, and overall physical and mental health.
Research continues to support improved cognitive function for individuals who wear hearing aids, making diagnosing and treating hearing loss an important factor in the potential prevention of dementia.